Excerpt from Spirits United
"Miss Petrie!" said I upon arriving at her desk. "Please let me introduce you to my fiancé, Detective Sam Rotondo. He's with the Pasadena Police Department. Oh, I guess you already knew that."
"How wonderful to meet you at last, Detective Rotondo," said Miss Petrie in a thrilled whisper. She held out her hand and Sam shook it.
"Pleased to meet you," said he, not snarling for once. He actually behaved properly and smiled as he shook her hand. Sort of like a tranquilized rhinoceros, if you know what I mean.
"Oh, Daisy," said Miss Petrie after Sam had let her hand go. "I have so many books for you!"
"Hmm," said Sam. "You're the one who feeds her detective-novel reading habit, I've heard."
"You betcha," I said.
"Yes indeed," said Miss Petrie, her smile faltering slightly.
"Don't mind him," I told her. "He acts grouchy on purpose."
"Do not," said Sam grouchily.
"He's a man, Daisy. I know what men are like."
She did? Her words surprised me since, as far as I knew, Miss Petrie was an unmarried young lady and, also as far as I knew, had never been engaged or anything. Maybe she grew up with brothers.
Naturally, Sam said, "Huh."
"So what do you have for us today, Miss Petrie?" I nearly rubbed my hands with glee.
"Two new arrivals from Mrs. Agatha Christie!" she exclaimed. Naturally, she whispered her exclamation. It can be done; believe me. "Poirot Investigates," which is a collection of short stories, and The Secret Adversary. The latter isn't about Hercule Poirot, but introduces two young people at loose ends after the war. They get together in this book. I loved it. It's ever so much better than Murder on the Links. The two young people are Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, although they aren't married at the beginning of the book. Rather like you and the detective." Miss Petrie giggled.
"Oooh, thank you!" I hugged the two volumes to my bosom. Not that women were supposed to have bosoms in those days. But I wore my bust-flattener and did my best. Because of my profession as a spiritualist-medium, I always attempted to look fashionable when I went out in public. Nobody wants to hire a sloppy spiritualist, trust me.
"And we just got a couple of books by Mr. E. Phillips Oppenheim, too. I think I've told you that it sometimes takes a while for books to get here from England."
"Oh, I love his books!"
"Good. Here we have The Wicked Marquis. It was published in 1919, but it still holds up today."
As 1919 was only six years prior, I imagined it did. "Thank you."
"And this is Jacob's Ladder, also by Mr. Oppenheim. I think you'll enjoy the tale of Mr. Jacob Pratt. He does have his ups and downs." Miss Petrie giggled again. I think the presence of the large, looming figure of Sam Rotondo by my side intimidated her. I'd never heard her giggle twice in one visit before. I didn't fault her for feeling daunted. Sam was rather like a granite obelisk when one first met him.
I said, "Thank you," again, feeling positively gleeful.
"But the best is yet to come," said Miss Petrie, her eyes sparkling behind her spectacles. It's long been my belief that she could be quite a pretty woman if she did something with her hair and used a little makeup. Not that it's any of my business. "Here we have The House Without a Key, by Mr. Earl Derr Biggers. I think you'll love his detective, Charlie Chan."
"Charlie Chan?" said Sam incredulously.
"Yes. He's a Chinese detective in Hawaii."
"Goodness. Thank you!" I said in hopes of preventing more comments from Sam.
I needn't have bothered. At that very second, an earsplitting shriek pierced the silence of the library. I dropped my pile of books. Fortunately, they landed on Miss Petrie's desk. Another scream followed the first one, and then we heard loud sobbing coming from the biography section of the library stacks.
Miss Petrie leaped to her feet, and she and I ran toward where the commotion had emanated.
Sam said, "Wait!"
Naturally, we didn't. I heard him thumping after us, and I could tell he was angry by the loudness of his cane as it made contact with the floor. His feet weren't terribly quiet, either. Sam was a big man.
"Whatever happened?" Miss Petrie whispered.
"I don't know."
We reached the biography section, and we both stopped still in our tracks. There, before us on the formerly pristine library floor, lay the body of a woman in a pool of blood. Another woman with her hands pressed to her cheeks stood, trembling, beside the body. I presumed she was the shrieker.
"Good heavens, what could have happened?" Miss Petrie said in a hushed voice.
"I don't know," said I. "She couldn't have been croaked with a gat, or we'd have heard the shot."
From behind me I heard a disgusted, "'Croaked with a gat?' Is that what all your reading has taught you?" Sam. Angry, unless I missed my guess.
Then it was I saw an old school fellow of mine, Mr. Robert Browning—not the poet—swing around the end of the biography stack, a bloody knife held in his hand. He stopped dead when he saw the body on the floor, and his mouth fell open.
"Robert!" I cried, appalled. The last person in the entire universe I could imagine killing anyone was Robert Browning. Well, except me and a couple of other folks I knew.
"Wh-what happened?" he asked, sounding and looking dumbfounded. "Good God, is that a dead woman?"
"We don't know yet," growled Sam, pushing Miss Petrie and me aside so he could get to the body. He knelt beside her, even though I knew doing so would hurt his leg. He pressed a finger to where the pulse in her neck would be if she were alive. Then he picked up a hand and felt for a pulse there. Turning to Miss Petrie and me, he snarled, "Call the cops and an ambulance. Now." He got painfully to his feet. "And you," he said to Robert. "What the hell are you doing with that knife?"
"I-I found it on the other side of this row of books. It looked... out of place. I don't know why I picked it up, but when I heard the screams, I ran over here." He looked from Sam to me and back again. "I didn't do anything! I just found the knife."
"And picked it up." Turning to Miss Petrie and me again, Sam said, "Well, get going!"
So we got going.